It’s show time

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

From Ed­in­burgh to Ex­eter and be­yond, cows are be­ing sham­pooed, ponies’ manes plaited and bowlers dusted. The air is redo­lent with hoof oil, stain-re­mover and blow-dry­ing. Granny’s fruit­cake recipe is un­earthed, ter­ri­ers are taught new tricks and jars of mar­malade are la­belled. Gar­den­ers stare im­pa­tiently at canes and beds, ex­pect­ing run­ner beans to spi­ral, mar­rows to bur­geon and dahlias to sprout in front of their eyes. Chelsea, with its Great Pavil­ion hous­ing flow­ers from some 90 ex­hibitors, is this week’s big event (see a re­view in our May 30 is­sue), the royal Bath & West is next.

The vil­lage fête—from the old French word for feast or hol­i­day—has been sta­ple coun­try­side en­ter­tain­ment for cen­turies, but it was the Vic­to­ri­ans who, as dog and other pet own­er­ship be­came fash­ion­able, re­ally got into the idea of breed stan­dards and show­ing. They founded the Ken­nel Club, nu­mer­ous herd books, stud­books and breed so­ci­eties, plus the Peter­bor­ough royal Fox­hound Show, the Great York­shire Show and the first RHS flower shows.

For a na­tion known for its calm an­tic­i­pa­tion and ac­cep­tance of sport­ing de­feat, as well as the po­lite re­cep­tions we give to vis­i­tors from over­seas when they win at the games we in­vented, we’re still cu­ri­ously com­pet­i­tive about show­ing, whether the ex­hibits are fancy fowl or cu­cum­bers.

The sum­mer agri­cul­tural shows, still es­sen­tial jolly days out for iso­lated farm­ers, are much more than op­por­tu­ni­ties to dust off the best bon­net and have a few beers. A Here­ford bull up­hold­ing his com­mer­cial value and his farm’s hon­our with a red rosette and silken gar­land mat­ters just as much to the com­mer­cial cat­tle breeder as the length and straight­ness of a run­ner bean to an am­a­teur gar­dener.

There will be mut­ter­ings and out­bursts, teeth will be grit­ted, hands re­luc­tantly shaken and, as Ja­son Good­win warns (Spec­ta­tor, page 106), nervous judges in re­treat. Let the best man—or mar­row—win.

We are the cham­pi­ons

An­other thing Britons are strangely com­pet­i­tive about is set­ting records. This month, ox­ford­shire gar­dener Kevin Nicks was de­clared the owner of the world’s fastest shed—more pow­er­ful than some sports cars and with pot plants adorn­ing the dash­board—achiev­ing 101mph on a Car­marthen­shire beach.

Britons hold world records for the most naked peo­ple on a fun­fair ride (102, if you must know), the heav­i­est onion (18lb 1oz), speed­i­est beer-mat flip­ping (1,000 in 41.6 sec­onds), fastest Munro climb­ing (24 in 23 hours 6 min­utes), bog snorkelling (60 yards in 1 minute 22.56 sec­onds) and the long­est Shake­speare recital (110 hours, 46 min­utes). No one can say we don’t try.

We’re cu­ri­ously com­pet­i­tive about show­ing, whether it’s fancy fowl or cu­cum­bers

Pine­hurst II, Pine­hurst Road, Farn­bor­ough Busi­ness Park, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire GU14 7BF Tele­phone 01252 555072 www.coun­trylife.co.uk

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